Sunday, February 27, 2005

LA Times weighs in on CT | by Dylan

Another bit of good reading from the Los Angeles Times, ostensibly comparing CT to UCLA rookie Jordan Farmar. In actuality, it's another quasi-lament on the closing of the Thomas era. There is not much new here, but I was struck by Thomas' dour assessment of his NBA potential, which I think can be read between the lines:

Thomas said he was still battling the knee injury.

"I'm 100% mentally but not physically," he said. "With that surgery, I don't think I can ever expect to be 100% again."
I don't know if this sympathetic portrayal of Thomas is a meme we can expect to gain traction over the last few weeks of the 2004-2005 season or if it's just a one-time rehash of the Indianapolis Star story for the hometown paper. A third story would confirm the trend, but I don't expect to see Thomas treated so gently in the papers of Big East cities. We'll see.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Grimace was a Power Forward | by Mike

On Wednesday, incoming basketball recruit Luke Zeller was named to the 2005 McDonald’s All-American Team. This year’s game will be played on March 30 at Notre Dame’s own Joyce Center. The game itself invariably degenerates into one-on-one (or none) play rife with showboating, and there is thus no point in attempting to evaluate players based on their performance in the game. Nonetheless, selection for the game is quite prestigious, political as it is rumored to be.

Using the methodology of the game's organizers, Zeller is Notre Dame’s 15th All-American. We decided to take a look at how that stacks up against other schools around the country. Note that this count is based on McDonald’s listings, which lists transfers at the school to which they transferred. Thus Joe Kleine counts for Arkansas rather than Notre Dame. On the other hand, Dan Miller counts for Notre Dame, and not Maryland (I can hear the howls of protest from Rochester now).

Only eighteen schools have had more than ten McDonald’s All-Americans. As one would expect, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky are at the top of the heap. But there are only three other schools that have had more All-Americans than Notre Dame. Solid company. This demonstrates the mojo that Notre Dame basketball can have, despite the assertions of Notre Dame haters that “No basketball star would ever want to go to a football school.” If Brey can keep Notre Dame in the tournament a few more years, the malaise of the Nineties will recede from the memory of recruits and analysts – a critical step in getting our mojo back.

Most McDonald’s All-Americans, by school

North Carolina   47
Duke 38
Kansas 25
Kentucky 25
UCLA 24
Michigan 17
Louisville 16
Notre Dame 15
Indiana 15
Arizona 13
Georgia Tech 13
LSU 13
Maryland 13
St. John’s 13
Illinois 12
Michigan State 12
Arkansas 11
Syracuse 11

Notre Dame’s McDonald’s All-Americans
Tracy Jackson     1977
Tim Andree 1979
John Paxson 1979
Tom Sluby 1980
Barry Spencer 1980
Ken Barlow 1982
Tim Kempton 1982
David Rivers 1984
Keith Robinson 1986
LaPhonso Ellis 1988
Ryan Humphrey 1997
Danny Miller 1998
Chris Thomas 2001
Torin Francis 2002
Luke Zeller 2005

Instant Messaging and the Birth of the "As Needed Bowl" | by Dylan

[09:43] Dylan: Jay, I’m not sure it's a totally fair charge. NCAA hypocrisy, that is

[09:43] Jay: what you thinking

[09:44] Dylan: I'm not sure that the 12th game is necessarily hypocritical. I mean, there's plenty to bitch about, but I'm not sure that it's hypocritical to want another sanctioned game but not a playoff

[09:44] Jay: don't get me wrong, I like the 12th game, although you have to make a different argument than the one the NCAA keeps citing about infringing on academics. I mean, that was the whole given reason

[09:46] Dylan: I actually buy that argument. I think that the last three weeks of December are the wrong time to be playing football. And I don't like the crazy bowl season either

[09:48] Jay: it's only 8 teams, not the whole of college football

[09:48] Dylan: well, not really. The bowl season isn't going to go away. If you could get the conferences to give up their championship games, you could, conceivably, get a small playoff in before finals season

[09:49] Jay: I’ve seen some scenarios where an 8-team playoff fits right in

[09:50] Dylan: does it involve playing in the second and third weeks in December? cuz that's a bad idea

[09:50] Jay: one game after the bowls, one game before Christmas, shift the schedule back. I mean hell they're talking about a 12th game already. Where's that going to fit in?

[09:51] Dylan: one of the two bye weeks that we schedule

[09:51] Jay: theoretically I guess the first playoff round would take the place of that 12th game, shifting schedules around naturally, where the last playoff round, i.e. the final game happens one week after the bowls

[09:52] Dylan: the problem is the SEC and Big 12 playoffs. it just makes a playoff schedule unworkable, because you can't know the participants until, possibly, Dec 6 or 7. You'd have to start immediately and go for three weeks. The kids who get to the championship would be forced to travel through finals. No college Prez is going to go for that.

[09:54] Jay: bottom line is that a true championship game isn't a priority. What about the extra two rounds (that is 3 games) AFTER the bowls Jan 1, final four a week later, NC the following week

[09:54] Dylan: in addition to all the other bowls?

[09:55] Jay: use the bowls as round 1

[09:55] Dylan: so the winner of the Orange Bowl goes to a playoff?

[09:55] Jay: you're not buying it

[09:55] Dylan: What if the winner of the Orange Bowl is 10-2 Texas and they have just beaten 11-0 Notre Dame?

[09:56] Jay: it's a playoff

[09:56] Dylan: I would love an "As Needed" bowl

[09:56] Jay: lol

[09:56] Dylan: Seriously

[09:57] Dylan: Auburn v SC one week after the BCS

[09:57] Jay: for all the marbles...hmm....but only "as needed." You know they would find a way to have that "as needed" bowl every single year.

[09:58] Dylan: it wouldn't be any harder to put together than a playoff after the conference championship games, and think of the hype

[09:58] Jay: huge

[09:58] Dylan: Like a potential Triple Crown winner in the Belmont. No one cares about the Belmont without that potential.

[10:01] Jay: I think the overarching point still stands. In general, the NCAA isn't opposed to extending the season. they've seen what a Big 12 championship and SEC champ. can generate. Ironically it's the Big 12 leading the charge on this.

[10:01] Dylan: the NCAA is hypocritical w/r/t money

[10:02] Jay: I haven't read anywhere the kinds of things the PSU prez was talking about. I think the general principle seems to be: it's bad if only some of us share in it, it's good if everyone does. Maybe I’m extrapolating too much

[10:04] Dylan: the thing about the Tulane example is that they wouldn't have gotten into an 8 team playoff. The whole thing's a freakin rat's nest

[10:04] Jay: absolutely

[10:05] Dylan: they should go back to AP and UPI. blow it up

[10:05] Jay: lots of teams bitching about how they didn't make the cut. It'd be way worse than hoops. The bitching is already ear-piercing for March madness for teams that didn't make it. With a field of 8, it's just magnified

[10:06] Dylan: It's not like the BCS conferences wouldn’t pull the same crap with a playoff

[10:06] Jay: stacking the field you mean

[10:06] Dylan: the same masters would be served. You think that a down Big 12 wouldn't get a team in? The Big 10? It's exactly the same number of teams as the current BCS. In that sense the playoff fixes nothing in terms of access to the field

[10:08] Jay: it crowns a champ, which is really its chief goal

[10:08] Dylan: which we were doing pretty well before the bowl alliance

[10:08] Jay: the split champ stuff is bull. That's the ultimate source of all this, but maybe that's the way it should be

[10:09] Dylan: hence the As Needed Bowl. Catchy name, don’t you think?

The Money Train | by Jay

If you've ever wandered through a grade school science fair, and seen the twenty different potato batteries and thirty-odd baking-soda-volcanoes, you're probably familiar with a phenomenon called simultaneous discovery.

In simultaneous (or "multiple") discovery, scientists or inventors in the same society arrive at the same innovation independently of each other at approximately the same time. For example, Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell developed the telephone simultaneously. Bell submitted a patent application on the same day, February 14, 1876, that Gray filed a caveat (or statement of intent to perfect) for a device to transmit voice.

Or take the telescope, as another case. Commonly attributed to Dutch lens-maker Hans Lippershey in 1608, a different telescope was invented by Galileo in 1609 (even though he had never seen an original) and similar models were created by other inventors. Evidently, there was something about that year that made scientists want to develop instruments to satisfy their curiosity about the heavens, resulting in at least five independent inventions of the same instrument.

Sociologists of science have proposed two explanatory theories for the origin of scientific and technological discoveries. Either the discovery is a function of the social context (the deterministic view) or it is due to the qualities of the individual making the discovery (the inventive genius theory). According to the deterministic theory of invention, the telephone and the telescope emerged when the time was ripe and the individual making the invention was of little importance. Given the appropriate context, someone would eventually have made the discovery.

Last night I experienced a bit of simultaneous discovery myself (and I would like to chalk it up to the inventive genius theory). I was thinking about the proposed expansion to a 12-game football schedule by the NCAA when reader Jeff sent us this bit of opinion, and an audible 'ding' was heard coming from my brain:
You should slam the NCAA for wanting to add 58+ games to the football schedule (the result of going to a 12-game season) while never considering a true national championship playoff system.
Jeff makes an incisive point. It was only a couple of years ago when "serious" debate about a college football championship tournament dominated the NCAA roundtables, and college presidents like Graham Spanier of Penn State poured cold water on the idea:
"I'm skeptical a national champion could be determined in a playoff without infringing on a student athlete's welfare."
Yet in comparison to the latest proposal, as Jeff points out, a playoff system would have tremendously less impact on scholarly pursuits than the 12th game proposal. If you're already willing to go an extra week, an 8-game playoff then becomes quite feasible: using the BCS bowls as a first round, an 8-game playoff would add exactly 3 games across all of college football. Two teams would play one extra game, and two more teams would play two extra games (the last for the national championship). Contrast that to 58+ extra games, multiplied by however many players and student managers per team, and the football footprint takes on Shaquillean proportions. You're not just "infringing" on the academic "welfare" of a handful of teams anymore; you've just affected all of Division I.

But that's only a concern if you were really serious about the kids' homework in the first place. As reported, major football-playing schools stand to gain a potential $1 million or better windfall for that extra game. Notre Dame obviously falls into this category, and for selfish reasons alone, I like the idea. Even lesser football schools will reap some filthy lucre, and they won't have to battle into the BCS bowls to do so. It's no wonder this is a popular idea.

Still, the NCAA just undermined its own chief argument against a playoff system, and although Jeff and I and others were all contemplating this at roughly the same time, it looks like the NCAA doesn't share in the same cosmic consciousness. Money's important ("if only for financial reasons", as Woody Allen once said) but it can muck up some perfectly good creative thinking, and if you're the NCAA, even make you renege on your purported principles.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

CT, appreciated | by Dylan

There is a fantastic piece in today's Indianapolis Star which sounds a grace note at the beginning of the end of the Chris Thomas era at Notre Dame. Along with the now-familiar list of on-the-court superlatives, Michael Pointer's article provides some shading to the often black and white public picture of Thomas. The key grafs:

Thomas spends six to eight hours each week counseling teenagers at the South Bend Center for the Homeless as part of a program called Resilience.

Thomas said he and the other mentors in the program demand that their students make the honor roll at their high schools. But nearly everyone does just that, he said.

"A lot of them come from big families and they don't get the support and care and love that some fortunate kids like myself have gotten," Thomas said.

"In order to be successful with the kids, you've got to show you love them first. Once you show them that love and support, that brings out their willingness to get better and improve in those areas you teach them."
Thomas, like most teams' best player, is a bit of a lightning rod. Some say he shoots too much or not enough. Some say he doesn't do enough to initiate the offense. Some say he doesn't properly navigate the high pick-and-roll. There is certainly some merit to these arguments, but they obscure larger truths. Chris Thomas is one of the best players in the history of the program, one of the best guards in the history of the Big East, and a terrific representative of the University.

My pessimism regarding this team's chances in the NCAA tournament are well documented. I think they are a one-and-out team for reasons that have nothing to do with Thomas. So while it's too early to write the eulogy on Thomas' career at Notre Dame, we need to heed his words down the stretch:
"I'm just proud of the fact I'm going to graduate from Notre Dame with a degree," Thomas said. "And I really feel like I'm most proud of where our program is going. Since I stepped on campus our freshman year, the program has just gotten better."
Indeed.

One last note on Tyrone Willingham | by Michael

Today news is spilling out of Seattle that Tyrone Willingham has completed his staff by hiring former ND linebackers coach Bob Simmons.

To those few ND fans or many ND haters who are still harboring some resentment that Willingham was fired, this hire represents precisely two aspects of why Willingham failed.

First, Bob Simmons has never coached special teams before. He's been a head coach, a defensive coordinator and a linebackers' coach, but if you peruse his bio once Washington releases it on their official website, I'm pretty certain that he's never been a special teams coach. This is a bad hire. Willingham made the same mistake in 2002, after he took over at Notre Dame. Phil Zacharias had coached special teams at Stanford, and he had initially made the move to South Bend, but he then took an assistant coaching position with the Baltimore Ravens. Who did Willingham then hire to coach special teams? No one, he simply tapped current RBs coach Buzz Preston to handle the special teams chores. It's noteworthy that Preston hadn't coached special teams in nearly 10 years, and when he had coached them (for Hawaii), he was only responsible for half of them (either the offensive (return/kicking) or defensive (blocks/coverage) side, I can't remember precisely). If Buzz Preston were currently employed, I'd be able to look up his bio online. Of course, his poor special teams units at Notre Dame were one of the reasons why Willingham was fired.

And that leads me to my second point. It appears that special teams are not that important to Willingham. If they were, his units would have a history of strong performances; whether it's at Stanford or Notre Dame, the results clearly suggest otherwise. If they were, Willingham would have a history of emphasizing special teams with his hires. And as we've seen now, both in 2002 and in 2005, he doesn't. It's not rocket science.

Bad coaching hires/decisions and special teams were two of the biggest problems that Willingham had at Notre Dame, and they ultimately led to his downfall. Unfortunately for Willingham, it doesn't appear that he's learned from his mistakes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Cleansing the Palette | by Teds

If you'll humor me for a moment, it's time to take the Pepsi Challenge with a couple of current college basketball coaches. And please, for the sanctity of the exercise -- no peeking...

Records over first five seasons:

Coach A - 17-13, 10-17, 11-17, 24-10, 23-8 (total: 85-65, .567)

Coach B - 20-10, 22-11, 24-10, 19-13, 16-8 (total: 101-52, .660)

Conference record during first five seasons:

Coach A - 6-8, 4-10, 3-11, 7-7, 8-6 (total: 28-42, .400)

Coach B - 11-5, 10-6, 10-6, 9-7, 8-6 (total: 48-30, .615)

NCAA appearances during first five seasons:

Coach A - 2

Coach B - 3 (on the verge of number 4)

NCAA tournament wins during first five seasons:

Coach A - 1

Coach B - 4 (with perhaps more coming)

NCAA "Sweet Sixteen" appearances:

Coach A - 0

Coach B - 1

Team records in the three seasons preceding the respective coach's arrival:

Team A - 24-9, 22-8, 27-7 (total: 73-24, .753)

Team B - 22-15, 14-16, 13-14 (total: 49-45, .521)

Team appearances in NCAA tournament in the same three seasons:

Team A - 3 (including one appearance in the finals and another in "Elite Eight")

Team B - 0

Given that data, I put it to you, Greg -- which mystery coach would you rather have leading your program into the future?

You might have figured out by now that "Coach B" is none other than Notre Dame's own Mike Brey. What might not be quite as obvious is that the less-successful "Coach A" is one of Brey's old bosses and, coincidentally enough, the most successful college coach of the past generation, Mike Krzyzewski.

Obviously, the way in which I've framed the illustration gives Brey the benefit of the doubt. In his sixth year on the job (1986), Krzyzewski's Duke team took off, recording a 37-3 record and advancing to the NCAA finals before losing to Louisville. From that point on, his Blue Devil teams were regularly ranked among the best in the nation and were annual threats to win national championships.

At the same time, Krzyzewski inherited a significantly more prosperous foundation at Duke than Brey did at ND, which is probably news to a lot of college basketball fans who assume that Coach K built the Duke empire from scratch. But Krzyzewski stumbled along as something of a mediocrity for several seasons in replacement of Bill Foster, leading the Blue Devils to an NIT appearance in his inaugural season before falling off the table in 1982 and 1983. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to the response Coach K's successor might someday receive if he emulates the master's first three seasons on the job (.447 winning percentage)? My suspicion is that it would make North Carolina's "handling" (*cough*) of ex-coach Matt Doherty look like a tickertape parade and honarary-key-to-Chapel-Hill ceremony by comparison.

I included the season-by-season records because I think it's important to recognize the stability that Brey has brought to Notre Dame basketball. His teams will have won an average of over 20 games a season when the current campaign closes out, and it's very likely that they will have produced five consecutive winning conference records while playing in perhaps the most challenging league in the nation during that stretch.

Just look at the records as listed above. That kind of consistency can get boring for fans and lead the antsier among us to wonder when the program will turn the proverbial Corner. While everyone is anxious to see Brey lead this team to the next level, it cannot be overstated how important that consistent winning performance has been to the image of a program that was stripped bare over a decade ago by neglect and an indefensible resistence to the conference movement. Even a single clunker year like those suffered by Krzyzewski at Duke would have compromised Notre Dame's rehabilitation.

The other noteworthy point from Krzyzewski's dossier at Duke is that, although his team became a top ten fixture during his sixth season, they didn't actually cash in and win a championship until his eleventh year on the job (1991). And the point I'd make here is that very few programs are going to progress in a natural and completely predictable fashion, as I'm sure that Duke fans wondered for a number of very successful seasons if their coach might just be another Bud Grant (remember, we didn't have Marv Levy to kick around at that point).

So when Brey led ND to the tournament and a first-round victory in year one, followed by another tournament appearance and a near-slaying of #1 seed Duke to advance to the Regionals in year two, followed by another tournament appearance and a Sweet Sixteen berth in year three...well, Irish fans likely became set in their ways about expecting continued baby steps up the ladder. Unfortunately, things rarely work out in such a rigid manner, and the purported underperformance of the team this year on the heels of missing the NCAAs completely last season has more than a few ND supporters openly wondering if Brey is capable of greater things here.

However, given what he's accomplished, the consistency with which he's done it, the instability and general mediocrity of the team prior to his arrival, and the impeccable character that he has exhibited in all facets throughout his five seasons on the job, there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that Mike Brey deserves the unqualified support of the entire Notre Dame community. Anyone holding back in this respect should have their eyes checked or their brain flushed.

On a more detailed front, there are team- and player-specific issues that deserve to be discussed and, yes, questioned. This season obviously hasn't unfolded quite as smoothly as most expected it would, and a certain amount of criticism is warranted here. But it's not over, either, and I don't think that this team's headstone has exactly been chiseled out yet. We can devote more time to the dissection of such items in future missives.

In the meantime, try to enjoy watching a team that's in the midst of sewing up yet another NCAA tournament at-large invitation while playing fiercely-contested games regularly on national television against opponents from the toughest and deepest conference in all of college basketball. It may not be your daddy's ND basketball team, but it's not your big brother's toothless edition, either. And there's a hell of a lot to be said for that.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

"Fighting Irish" no more? | by Jay

Wow. It looks like Notre Dame is about to succumb to the pressures of a politically correct world and actually drop the name "Fighting Irish" in favor of something less controversial.

For more on this breaking news, click here (be sure to hit 'play' on the righthand side).

Tour Stop | by Jay

Weis kicked off a barnstorming tour of the campus dorms last night with a visit to Stanford and BP. In addition to BGS reader Alli's comments below, there are a couple of spy reports from the meetings, one from NDN and the other from UHND. Charlie dropped a few interesting tidbits.

For one thing, he reiterated that he'll be calling the offensive plays this year, and he won't relinquish playcalling until he feels comfortable that it's in good hands. (Why do I get the feeling that this might be something he never lets go of completely?)

Also of interest: Charlie apparently talked with Tim Brown the other day at length and encouraged him to play another year in the NFL, because he could make a lot more money playing football, and also he didnt want to have him on the staff, working, with the possibility of an NFL team calling for him and then having to deal with that dilemma. He said that he has a job waiting for Brown, but that it will probably be put off for a little while.

Oh, and his favorite play to call? "Touchdowns".

Friday, February 18, 2005

Got a photograph, picture of | by Jay

Below, Mike Steedle comments on the Davie picture we used for the previous post ("I was looking for one in which he looked like he was doing something stupid.")

The funny thing is, if you do a google picture search on 'bob davie', more than half the resulting photos seem to fit that bill. I don't know what it is about the Bullet, but the camera always seemed to catch him at his worst: mouth agape and gesticulating wildly, lips pursed and with a furrowed brow, or otherwise wound up in a fit of agitation and looking pretty silly.

Jean-Luc Godard once said that "photography is truth", and he might be right. Take a gander.

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In any case, sorry for all the Davie detritus lately. We'll get back to you with some more good stuff after the weekend's over (and hopefully after a much-needed road win against Providence tomorrow).

the Holtz Room revisted | by Jay

One of Charlie's frequent mantras thus far has been "No Excuses": no excuses about academics, no excuses about a tough schedule, no excuses about South Bend. No excuses, period.

You'd think this kind of uncompromising talk would be de rigueur for an Irish coach, right? But Charlie's attitude stands in stark contrast to that of some of the more recent denizens of the head coaching office. In our Friday mailbag we have a story from reader Ned about one of the all-time great bellyachers...that's right, your favorite and mine, Bullet Bob. Enjoy.

In the last year of the Holtz era, a group of us decided to dedicate our dorm room, 326 Keenan, to the memory and legacy of Lou, the last great Irish coach. Four of us chartered it, but "The Holtz Room" had many associates, and was a place where the guys lived and breathed ND football. We covered the walls with Holtz memorabilia and turned it into a shrine to Lou, and it became sort of a mecca for all things Irish.

Lou himself even visited The Holtz Room on his first trip back to Notre Dame after being fi-- leaving, and he loved it, staying and talking with us for a good forty-five minutes before heading out for a roast of Father Ted.

The Holtz Room had many traditions, but the most important by far was the Rockne Toast. On Fridays before football games, the residents of the Holtz Room and others that wanted to tag along would journey out to Rock's grave to ask him to look over the team tomorrow. We would go around and say something about ND and down a ceremonial shot of whiskey, always leaving one behind on the grave.

Anyway, when Bob Davie officially became the coach, we thought we'd ask him to get involved in the tradition, and we invited him to come along. With the stipulation that we leave out the whiskey, he agreed, and the date was set for March 31st, the anniversay of the day that Rock's plane went down.

We met Bob at the JACC and talked with him for a while in his private office (there was some Texas A&M stuff in the office, which wasn’t thrilling to see). Davie was very nice and had a hat and ball for each of us that he signed. We then headed off to Rock’s grave.

At the cemetery, we started going around, and everyone said something about Rock and what he did at ND. Finally, it was Bob's turn. He thought for a moment, and said:

“Rock, why did you have to set the bar so high?”

A little stunned, we all just kind of looked at each other, trying to conceal our disbelief.

Bob said a few more words, and then we said goodbye and parted ways, and walked back to campus. Years later, I donated the Davie-signed hat for a charity auction. I can't believe they got 75 bucks for it.

-- Ned

Speaking of Mr. Redundant... | by Jay

BGS reader Glass sends us this fun anecdote about one of our 'great names.'

You mentioned Frank Gaul. Well, my wife's middle name is Frances in honor of him. He is her great uncle. He was county treasurer in Cleveland for a long time. Here's a great quote from him in an article about another politician.

"Hagan's intellectual, tax-and-spend liberalism didn't sit well with the blue-collar voters whose support he needed to win the office of mayor.

That sentiment was captured in an often-quoted put-down of Hagan by then-Cuyahoga County Treasurer Frank Gaul. Hagan often referred to the French philosopher Albert Camus in his speeches. Camus, an existentialist, believed that life was essentially meaningless unless man infused his daily work with meaning.

'Most people in Cleveland think Camus is the whale at Sea World,' snorted Gaul."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Quick hit. | by Jay

Mostly stuff you've heard already, but take a listen to Charlie's interview on WFAN with Joe Benigno & Sid Rosenberg (warning -- thick New Yawk accents in use here).

Charlie even takes a nice little shot at our favorite Dream Job candidate. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Monikers | by Jay

Today's fun feature was sparked by a conversation I had with a friend of mine named Murphy. I call him "Murph", which is a unique and special nickname I coined just for him.

One of the best things about Irish football is the sheer volume of it. Notre Dame's been playing football in one form or another since 1887, playing 1,107 games with 117 different teams and featuring over 2,200 different players. That adds up to a lot of names.

Now major-league baseball is the grand repository of wonderful names (Enos Slaughter, Satchel Paige, Stubby Clapp, Kirby Puckett, Jayhawk Owens, Esix Snead, Covelli Crisp, Scarborough Green, Biff Pocoroba, Minnie Minoso, Ugeuth Urtain Urbina, Garth Iorg -- I could go on and on) and college hoops has a mellifluous medley of magnificent monikers (Baskerville Holmes, God Shammgod, Fennis Dembo, Scientific Mapp, his brother Majestic Mapp, Exree Hipp, Boubacar Aw, Commander King, Shaquille O'Neal).

As for ND football, this past season alone, we had some great ones: Chase Anastasio, Nick Borseti, Mike Goolsby, Carlyle Holiday, Chauncey Incarnato, Chinedum Ndukwe, Rashon Powers-Neal, Abdel Banda.

Of course, this is just one year. ND history is stocked with quite a few good names (including maybe the single greatest coach's name of any sport, anywhere), so we thought we'd break it down into smaller categories. So here goes...

Great tough-guy names. Some guys are just born to play football: Ned Bolcar, Torgus Oaas, Demetrius DuBose, Donn Grimm, Cedric Hilliard, Herm Hooten, Grant Irons, Kinnon Tatum, George Streeter, Darius Walker, Mike Stonebreaker.

Throwbacks. These guys would have fit right in with Red Grange and Doc Holliday: Ray Griggs, Glenn Earl, Jim Flanigan, Chris Zorich, Braxston Banks, Joey Goodspeed.

Warsaw Metro all-stars. Ziggy Czarobski, Len Cyterski, Tom Lopienski, Tom Zbikowski, Pete Chryplewicz, Bronko Nagurski, Scott Kowalkowski, Terry Andrysiak, Steve Toczylowski, Emil Sitko.

Epic names. Hercules Bereolos, Cikai Champion, Achille Magioli, Arnaz Battle, Alton Maiden, Seraphine Bouwens, Garron Bible.

AC Italia. Vito Racanelli, Angelo Bertelli, Rocco Schiralli, Joe Scibelli, Cammille Piccone, Domenic Prinzivalli, Bruno Opela, Cedric Figaro.

Great Melting-Pot Names. The beauty of American names is that you can squish any two together, regardless of ethnic origin, and get something completely original and authentic: Hiawatha Francisco, Ron Israel, Reggie Ho, Lorenzo Rausch, Karmeeleyah McGill, Rashon Powers-Neal, Renaldo Wynn, Carlos Pierre-Antoine, Leroy Keach.

the All--Nickname team. More often than not, these guys went by their informal appellation: Hunk Anderson, Clipper Smith, Rocky Bleier, Fod Cotton, Cy DeGree, Smoush Donovan, Smousherette Bob Donovan, Thunder Flanigan, Moose Krause, Flash Gordon, Speedy Hart, Bunny Larkin, Curly Lambeau, Rocket Ismail, Dinger McCabe, Happy Lonergan, One-Play O'Brien.

the All-Banal team. Bill Cook, John Smith, Mike Favorite, Jimmy Friday, Frank Brew, Art Funk, Mark Green, Lake Dawson, John Law, Russ Nickel, Jack Snow, Jerry Groom, Bernie Meter, Tom Fine.

Department of Redundancy Department. Frank Gaul.

Super Slavs. Mirko Jurkovic, Mike Turkovich, Tom Hecomovich.

Presidential timber. John Adams, John Kennedy, Byron Abraham, Bob Washington, Preston Jackson, Alonzo Jefferson, Pete Buchanan, Tom Carter, Bob Reagan, Jim Bartlett.

Onomatopoetic names. Andy Heck, Vontez Duff, Andy Huff, Jim Hack, Dick Naab, Denis Szot, Kenny Spears, Fred Staab, Al Skat.

Alliterative names. Corwin Clatt, Bert Berry, Demetrius DuBose, Jarious Jackson, Julius Jones, Kevin Kopka, Mugsy McGrath, Ronnie Rodamer.

A good old-fashioned Irish donnybrook.. Would the O's really have a better O than the Mc's?

QB Coley O'Brien
RB Harry O'Boyle
RB Charlie O'Hara
WR Michael O'Hara
TE Dan O'Leary
LT Tom O'Brien
LG Brendan O'Connor
C Hugh O'Donnell
RG Bill O'Connor
RT Tom O'Regan
SE Bill O'Laughlin
QB Kevin McDougal
RB Mike McNair
RB Tom McHugh
WR Rhema McKnight
TE Oscar McBride
LT Bill McCarthy
LG Jim McGoldrick
C Gene McGuire
RG Steve McDaniels
RT Mike McGlinn
SE Fuzzy McGlew

Non-football names. With names like these, they should be in some other profession: Rusty Lisch (auto mechanic), Ray Whipple (insurance salesman), Benny Guilbeaux (New Orleans chef), Ivory Covington (director of British arthouse movies), Lyron Cobbins (character in a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story), Irv Smith (accountant), Basil Stanley (MI-6 operative), Lew Miskovitz and Jacob Rosenthal (rabbis), Menil Mavraides (Greek shipping magnate), Bill Shakespeare (not sure...let me think about this one).

Best pedigreed Notre Dame name. Rockne Morrissey.

The all-time great names. Dezera Cartier, Joe Montana, Vagas Ferguson, Gasper Urban, Arunas Vasys, Noah Van Hook-Drucker, Gus Dorais, LeShane Saddler, George Gipp, Sherrill Sipes, Jarvis Edison, Thaddeus Cassidy.

The best name in ND football history, bar none. Romanus Nadolney, nickname "Peaches". Peaches was a left tackle from Ironwood, Michigan who lettered in 1918.

As we all know, ND fans love to name things after Irish football greats, so feel free to clip and save this handy list for important occasions such as the acquisition of pets, birthing of children, or launching of ships.

Thanks to the UND.com's All-time Roster for help with this research. And if you have any other suggestions on great names, please don't hesitate to pass 'em along.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Twelfth Game | by Jay

Picking up from Pat's post below, I think today's news from the USA Today article is quite important. Keep in mind this didn't just make the online edition, but also ran in the front page (sports) of the print copy today. It sure looks like our independent status has just been emphatically asseverated, and we shall proudly remain the Jim Jeffords of college football. Here's the entire text:

Irish look ahead by looking into past

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame officials are planning to reinforce a long-term commitment to the school's independent football status with a dramatic strategic link to the Rockne era.

Anticipating an NCAA decision in April that would make a 12th regular-season game permanent, Notre Dame intends to schedule a game each season in different parts of the country at sites the Irish hope will be anything but neutral.

The plan, the result of a two-year study, is expected to take effect in 2009. The Fighting Irish will increase the number of games at Notre Dame Stadium from the current six to seven, and four games will take place on the road.

For a 12th game each year, athletics director Kevin White said, the school is considering cities such as Chicago, Orlando, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Dallas. The Irish would negotiate terms that would include games, perhaps in prime time, in its agreement with NBC.

"It will be like a mini bowl game," White told USA TODAY. "We're going to take our football program around the country in ways that we haven't done."

The idea has roots in the 1920s, when coach Knute Rockne took his team, known as the Ramblers, from coast to coast.

John Heisler, a senior associate athletics director whose responsibilities include scheduling, said the school has not contacted potential opponents or representatives of sites. White said the initiative has been viewed favorably within the school administration because of its boost to recruiting and the way it could provide alumni and fans greater access to tickets.

White said an agreement to play at least three Big East teams a season would let the Irish play annually at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. They have played there 11 times, including a 27-9 win against Navy in 2004.

A 10-year extension of an agreement with fellow independent Navy, an annual Irish opponent since 1927, will include a game in Dublin, Ireland, where the programs met in 1996.

After considering a football involvement with several conferences the last six years, White said Notre Dame would celebrate its football independence rather than feeling resigned to it.

"If you think of yourself as an independent and you allow yourself to become regionalized," White said, "that doesn't make sense. We need to be a little entrepreneurial."

This is quite a policy shift for the White AD. Just over a year ago John Heisler wrote an article for ND Magazine postulating a move to conference affiliation for Irish football, specifically the Big 10 or the ACC. At the time, I took the article to be sort of a subtle way of greasing the wheels, a propaganda piece intended to prepare the alumni for the inevitable, and there was no doubt in my mind that the stage was being set. As Heisler wrote:
It's worth noting that Notre Dame lobbied unsuccessfully for Big Ten membership a number of times up through the middle of the Knute Rockne years, before settling on a course of independence now considered sacred to some. Some 80 years later, might ever-changing conditions be ripe to address the complex subject of conference membership again?
At the time, White, too, was on the record: "We're going to continue to monitor the landscape..." The message: it's coming someday. Get ready.

White said this morning, "If you think of yourself as an independent and you allow yourself to become regionalized, that doesn't make sense. We need to be a little entrepreneurial." Quite the shift, no? We went from trying to ease into conference affiliation to looking at how we can use our independence to our advantage. Imagine that. When White talks about our I-status as an "entrepreneurial" opportunity, you can almost hear the bell going off in his head -- "Now I get it" -- as if all along, he didn't know what he had. (I'm reminded of Trent's pep talk to Mikey in Swingers: "Kevin, you're Notre Dame, you've got these big claws and fangs, and you're like, I don't know what to do...how do I kill the bunny?")

This is really fantastic news, and underlines just how much the new regime at ND understands the inherent strengths of an independent Notre Dame football program. The conference talk was a capitulation, a statement that ND football wasn't strong enough to stand on its own, and perhaps was an oblique desire for the shared academic benefits of being in the Big 10 or the ACC -- something that had nothing to do with sports. So this is a pretty big reversal. Of course you can only reap the benefits of conference independence when you play successful, winning football, and with our newfound commitment to that end (see Weis, Charlie) a reiteration of independence certainly makes sense. The proactive nature of the AD is a delight -- we're expecting to win, so why not set things up now?

So it looks like the Meadowlands discussions we previously heard about were part of this larger strategy to showcase ND football in neutral-site venues. Other possible sites are Chicago, Orlando, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Dallas (as well as another game against Navy in Dublin, Ireland -- one of the best road trips I ever made. If there's a another tilt at Croke Park, I'm there). I'm not sure who the natural opponents would be for those venues, although I can imagine a multitude of scenarios. Northwestern or Illinois at Soldier Field? LSU at the Superdome? Florida or FSU at Jacksonville? Lots of possbilities.

And last, but certainly not least, playing seven home games a year is great for the team, and great for us fans. Giving us home-field advantage seven times a year is quite an advantage, and hopefully the extra game will dilute the alumni ticket application pool a little bit, and allow more people to catch a game...right?

True story: in '93, a friend of mine bought a ticket on game day for the FSU game for $800, and he was happy to just get into the game. Flash forward ten years to the fall of 2003, and here we were giving away a pair of FSU tickets. There were so many people peddling extras outside the stadium that the best we could do was give them to a couple of kids who looked like they really wanted to go to the game.

If things go as we hope, we could play twenty games at home and tickets would still be scarce.

Except for the supermodels, no difference at all really... | by Jay

Just watched this morning's coffee klatch with the students (Irish Eyes has the video, but it might be premium content). Great stuff. Charlie's hilarious.

"As we know, South Bend is not the Mecca of the world, but it's a good college town. One of my options at the time was to go to the Miami Dolphins. So I said to my wife, South Beach...South Bend. What's the difference?"

"No Excuses" | by Pat

The image “http://vmedia.rivals.com/uploads/961/215089.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Charlie Weis started off his first full week working at Notre Dame with a 6am informal Q&A with students. Union labor laws prevented BGS from being there personally, but here is a first hand report we managed to get from our network of spies (a.k.a. notre dame message boards)...

I just went and saw Charlie Weis speak to the students, and boy, am I glad I got up early to do so. We started off in the football auditorium but by 5:45, it was packed so they moved us to the basketball arena. I would estimate about 250 – 300 students were there. Not a bad showing for 6 am on a Monday morning. Here are the highlights from Charlie’s talk:

Talked about Ty and how he was well liked and had a lot of integrity. He said that is what made the transition to a new football coach so tough. However, he said that anytime there is a change, it is made for a reason. Quite frankly, “expectations weren’t met”. He told the players not to whine about it because “if they weren’t 6-6, then they wouldn’t have let the coach go”.

He said that when ND came calling, he talked to his wife and said “this is it, honey.” Talked about how there were only 3 jobs he coveted. The NY Giants job which he lost out to last year, the ND job, and the South Carolina job. Said the South Carolina job interested him because he coached there five years and the special needs organization they are building will be in South Carolina.

He said that he would have had other NFL opportunities. In fact, he said on the night he was going to accept the ND job, one NFL team told him not to take the ND job, because he would have one if he waited. He said he even got a call from the Giants to gauge his interest and he told them, “you had your chance”.

He indicated that his job is to raise expectations. He said but don’t say to your fellow students, “Did you listen to that guy. We are going to go undefeated”.

The first thing he said he had to do was to get all the players thinking the same way as him. He indicated that he would have to first earn their respect. He said coming from the pros and being from Jersey, was probably not a great combination to try to do that.

Charlie said that he has never been in a program that has lost. He said that was not because of him, but he was a reason for it. He said that he has worked for two of the best coaches, Parcells and Billecheck, and he has taken the best from both of their personalities.

He talked about USC. “Pete Carroll is a friend of mine...but he's never really done great against me." He cautioned, however, that right now, USC has a better football team than ND. If you don’t think so, you are just kidding yourselves. He said his job is to get ND once again to that level. He indicated that he would begin to get ND back by finding smart kids who are good kids.

“No Excuses.” He said he doesn’t want to hear excuses about admissions being too hard, the scheduling being too tough (for example, 4 of the first 5 games being on the road), excuses about coaching, or excuses about Xs and Os’. He said we have had “too many excuses”.

He indicated that his kids will attend classes or they will have to answer to him. On one of the Fridays he was here for a day, he found out that about 6 players missed a class, and he “hammered them for it”. He said the University is giving them a scholarship to a great University and they should take full advantage of it.

He talked about how he had hired a great coaching staff. And he said for all those folks complaining about the administration, they should realize that they are the ones that stepped up to the plate to allow him to hire such a good staff. He believes in surrounding himself with good people and the administration allowed him to do it.

He talked about recruiting and said he didn’t lose recruits; they just didn’t want to come here. He said the problem is that ND is no longer the place to be for college football. He indicated it is just an option now. He said he wants to get it back to where it is the place to be. He didn’t set a timeline but indicated that we “will be back sooner than people expect.” He said that he didn’t want recruits that people would be in awe of, but would be “just one of the guys”. He said, “I don’t want prima donnas”.

In regards to recruiting, he indicated that Feb 27th, would be a big junior recruiting weekend. For the UCLA game, they are going to bring in a bunch of junior recruits they are interested in. He wants the students to help him recruit.

Here are the things which Charlie said we were going to get with him:
  • He will be around and visible across campus.
  • He said he won’t do anything to embarrass the University, because ”I don’t do anything. I am boring.”
  • Will bring pro experience with him
  • He is a good family man
  • He plans on being here for a long time, at least a decade. He wants his son to get through school at a minimum.
He said that he doesn’t know how many wins they will have, but he will promise that every week, we will have a team that is ready to go and prepared. He said that there will not be any lackluster performances. He will be on the sidelines and let them know about it if there are those types of performances. He cautioned that people should not sit too close to him and “don’t read his lips either.” He said he may have gone to ND, but he has been in the pros for 15 years.

At that point, we went to questions. Someone asked him how much time he would spend with the offense and defense. He said that he would split his time equally between the two units. He then thought better and said that he was just as concerned about special teams and was going to focus on those just as much. He said very bluntly, “the special teams here sucked.” He said that he would put 1st teamers on special teams and this will be the first place you will see improvement and we will see it in a hurry.

When questioned about if he would call the plays, he said that he would be involved until he is “comfortable giving it up”. When he felt the offensive coaches could call a good a game as him, he would let them have it. About the defense, he said that he would share his philosophies about defense and he wanted to know why were doing things at all times. He gave an example of Pitt. He said that they had a good passer and that he didn’t care if they blitzed every down or dropped 8 in coverage, but they better be able to tell him why.

Someone asked about the green jerseys and requested that we only use those for the big games. Charlie said that rah rah stuff only lasts about 10 minutes. He said preparation is the reason you win and not emotions. Emotions can carry you only through part of the 1st quarter and then it comes down to who is better prepared.

He said football has become a very intellectual game. He would determine what his players could do and then mold the offense around what they could absorb and execute.

He did say that he was a big bulletin board guy and wanted to make sure the players did not produce bulletin board material for the other team. He said our guys will say the right thing, because “they will be coached on it”.

He said the only thing he really uses his Super Bowl rings for is recruiting. He also said that he will not display or wear anything from a game in which the team loses. He commented on the Insight bowl trophy and told them to “put that thing in the closet because we aren’t displaying it”. He doesn’t like to lose and doesn’t want to be reminded of losing by a trophy.

He was asked the greatest strength and weakness of the team. He said the greatest strength is character. Ty recruited character guys and you can win with character guys. He said the greatest weakness is trying to implement a new offensive and defensive scheme. He said that was on him, however, and he would be responsible for that. He said he will always deflect negatives from the team and to himself.

I think that is about it. I found Charlie to be an excellent communicator. He combined his no nonsense football approach with an excellent sense of humor. I can see him being a great motivator and recruiter. Heck, I was ready to strap on a helmet after his talk.



And more interesting ND news was highlighted in Malcolm Moran's USA Today article about future ND schedules. Here are the key paragraphs.

The plan, the result of a two-year study, is expected to take effect in 2009. The Fighting Irish will increase the number of games at Notre Dame Stadium from the current six to seven, and four games will take place on the road.

For a 12th game each year, athletics director Kevin White said, the school is considering cities such as Chicago, Orlando, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Dallas. The Irish would negotiate terms that would include games, perhaps in prime time, in its agreement with NBC.

If you are anything like me, September 3rd can't get here fast enough.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Friday Afternoon on the Island of Notre Dame Du Lac | by Pat

It's getting down to crunch time in college basketball and the Fighting Irish made a stronger case for their invite to the Big Dance with a win over the previously undefeated BC Eagles. However, Brey's team still isn't anywhere near a lock and will need to play well down the stretch. (How's that for insightful!)

Reviving a February staple of his, El Kabong on ndnation.com is offering up his "If the Big East Tournament Started Today..." post. It's a good look at where the Irish stand in relation to the rest of the conference.

Another good article on where the Irish currently stand is Jeff Shelman's take on ND's chances to get back to the field of 64. His opinion is that Notre Dame still has plenty of chances to sell itself to the selection committee but will need to keep playing with the chemistry it displayed in the Boston College game.

The BC game was also an example of Notre Dame's newfound balance. While this is still Chris Thomas' Irish team, the senior guard no longer has to do everything. A year ago, if Thomas didn't score, Notre Dame didn't usually win. Thomas' scoring average is down by about six points per game this season, but he's third in the Big East in assists. That's the result of Notre Dame having more options. Colin Falls (seven three-pointers against Boston College) is scoring more, as is Chris Quinn. Inside, Arizona transfer Dennis Latimore is taking some of the pressure off of Francis.
And in bluegraysky's first (and last) foray into photojournalism, here's a picture taken by a BGS staffer from the rafters at the end of the Notre Dame/BC game that would make Georges Seurat proud.



Notice the masterful composition, the interplay of light and dark...oh, who are we kidding. It's a snap from a crappy cell phone camera.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Rack him. | by Jay

Jim Rome had a pretty good interview with Charlie yesterday. Here's a link to the audio from Rome's website.

UPDATE: It must be multimedia day. Here's a video clip, albeit a little older, from CSTV of Charlie talking about recruiting. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ciao, Chow | by Jay

Norm Chow just left USC to take the job as the Titans offensive coordinator.

Without getting into the kremlinology of the Carroll/Chow relationship or lamenting the lost opportunity to play (and beat) a Chow-led Trojan squad this fall, I do think that Chow presents an interesting analogue to Charlie Weis.

Weis and Chow are passing each other on the up/down coaching escalator, and this should be a fitting litmus test comparison for their respective intellects. Both are seen as tactical geniuses in their respective circles. However...

Weis has already proven himself on the big stage, and now his challenge is to take that intimidating football IQ and translate it to a younger game. He's a little like Norman Dale going back to coach Hickory High.

Chow, on the other hand, has been a big fish in a little pond, about to jump into the raging sea.

Who has the more Sisyphean task ahead of him?

ND Surprises Recruiting World | by Jay

In my alternate-reality version of the Notre Dame universe, there'd be no need for the year-long round-the-clock frenzy of recruiting. Players would base their school decisions on sound reasoning and careful contemplation, free from spastic media attention and the prying eyes of self-styled recruiting gurus, and the land would be devoid of coercion and corruption by schools with a less-than-savory moral fiber. Tomorrow we'd wake up, and this would be the front-page story...



ND SIGNS EVERYONE

SOUTH BEND (AP) -- With almost a year to go until the 2006 National Signing Day, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish preempted the annual recruiting circus, and shored up their offense, defense, and special teams by getting a verbal commitment from every player in high school football in the entire country.

"Shit," remarked USC coach Pete Carroll. "We're screwed."

Among the recruits was that big lineman from that state with the snow, and that wide receiver who runs faster than everyone else on his highlight reel, and every single player in the states of Florida, Texas, and California, as well as the other 47 states, parts of Canada, American Samoa, and this one Gaelic football player from county Cork who seems like he might make a good punter. (Somehow, despite signing every player in the country, the Irish still weren't able to land a true cover corner.)

Every recruit in the country lines up
to sign with the Irish
"I guess there's no point in following recruiting this year. The Irish landed everyone, and it's not even March yet," lamented Tom Lemming, reached while on a recruiting trip to Phuket, Thailand. "I'm out of business. No Lemming Bowl. No breathless chat sessions on ESPN. Crap, I'll have to scale back on the turtleneck budget. And I gotta find another use for this 900 number. "

How did Weis do it? Shortly after the Super Bowl victory parade in Boston on Tuesday, Weis embarked on an around-the-country whirlwind tour, visiting over a thousand recruits in just twelve hours, a travel schedule rivaled only by Santa Claus, or maybe the guy who leaves fliers for Chinese restaurants on everybody's door.

Most players verballed to Charlie on the spot, although some wavered a bit before committing to the Irish. Prep superstar Chuck Shick was a silent verbal, and then a barely audible verbal, and then a slightly under-the-breath verbal, then a verbal aside to someone offstage, before finally verballing to ND in a normal tone of voice.

On Wednesday the line of players stretched for miles across campus, as one by one they pulled an Irish hat out of a gigantic duffel bag. ESPN covered the event live on television.

"I'm really trying to think of something negative to say," remarked ESPN Gameday host Chris Fowler. "Gimme a second here. I'll think of something."

Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com: "The mystique is dead! ND football is dead! Wait a second...what? How the hell did they do that?"

Some coaches bemoaned the clean sweep of every recruit in the land by the Irish.

"We tried everything," exclaimed Florida coach Urban Meyer. "We bashed Notre Dame as hard as we could. We told the recruits that it snowed a foot a day in South Bend and the girls all looked like Janet Reno. Nothing worked. We tried to ply them with cars and Gator cheerleaders, but for some reason, these guys wanted an education with their football. Losers."

"Waahhh!" remarked Lloyd Carr.

Added Meyer, "thank God for JUCOs."

"I see no reason why teams like Michigan and Florida can't continue to remain competitive, just because they lack players," Charlie Weis responded. "Look at Penn State, for example. They've been without a living head coach for two decades now, and they still manage to play the games."

Washington coach Tyrone Willingham managed to salvage his class by landing 10 walk-on students from Stanford, 5 caddies from Glen Acres country club, 3 players who were kicked off of other teams last season, and Bill Diedrick, who will play flanker on bubble screen plays.

"I thought of something negative!" interjected Chris Fowler. "ND is greedy, keeping every player for themselves! Yeah, that's it."

Ace reporter Myron Brabble of the website the Blue-Gray Sky initially reported the news of the Irish landslide. Said Brabble, "BGS has been criticized in the past for not focusing enough on breaking news or getting any inside scoop. Well, I got a scoop for you. Right here." Sources said Brabble may or may not have grabbed a part of his anatomy while making the announcement.

Added Brabble, "Remember, even if another recruiting service announces a verbal to ND, you heard it here first. Got that? We were first."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

MVP | by Mike

Deion Branch was, of course, the official MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.

The Philadelphia Daily News, however, had their own opinion:

The lopsided coaching mismatch was led by our High & Inside Super Bowl MVP, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. College coaches, brace yourselves now for Notre Dame's future. The man is brilliant.

Notre Dame fans must be salivating, while AFC defensive coordinators have reason to celebrate Weis' departure for South Bend.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Roundtable, par deux | by Jay

We now resume our Memphis layover, with part II of our Recruiting Roundtable.

(Setting the scene: Dylan has just been defeated by Sean in a stunning best-of-three Rochambeau challenge for the last Chili's rib. Sean, licking his chops, continues the conversation...)



Sean

One thing I like about this year's recruiting class - their nicknames. Check out the writeup from the SBT. Some very creative nicknames. Like Scott Smith is Smitty. No way. And Asaph Schwapp is Ace. But I think my favorite ones are Joey Hiben and Kyle McCarthy, whose nicknames are "Joey" and "Kyle", respectively. What will they think of next?

Teds
Hey, if we've got an "Ace", shouldn't we also have a "Gary"? Although that might mean that they should have gone to Southern Cal instead, or even oiled each other up for a transfer to play for the ol' wrasslin' coach down at Ole Miss. But I digress.

Pat
One other point that I'd like to make about this class is it's flexibility. Weis mentioned as much in his press conference and I think that multiple guys will end up moving around during their time at Notre Dame. Just taking a quick look at the recruits, Steve Quinn was recruited as a wide receiver and linebacker, Pat Kuntz as a defensive end and defensive tackle, both cornerback and safety for Kyle McCarthy, Washington as I mentioned earlier is a linebacker who also plays free safety, Joey Hiben is a tight end who has also been mentioned as a possible defensive end, linebacker Scott Smith has the size to move to the d-line, and fullback Asaph Schwapp was also recruited as a linebacker. Weis mentioned in one of his earlier press conferences that he likes to recruit "big guys" and "skill guys" and fit them in slots later. Well that seems to be the early hallmark of this class. As Weis mixes the current talent on the team with the incoming talent of future classes, the flexibility of this current group of 15 should prove invaluable to fill any holes or depth issues in the coming years.

Jay
Damn you, Pat, you stole my thunder. I was thinking about the same thing when I was writing up the recruiting post the other night.

Don't forget Duncan, who started as a pretty good tight end as a junior and bulked up to play tackle. Apparently he's a fantastic hoops player to boot.

I wonder, though, if this isn't typical of most recruiting classes. Most of these guys are the best athletes at their school, so it follows that they will have played offense, defense, multiple positions, other sports, etc.

Do we think that this group is exceptionally versatile?

Teds
I don't think the group is exceptionally versatile, at least compared to other recent classes. Guys who you hope can play corner make decent safeties, and tight ends often have the frame and quickness to handle SDE. These aren't particularly earthshattering concepts.

17-year-old prep recruits damn well should be versatile, because many of them aren't close to done growing yet. So anyone who wants to put a kid that age in a box and make decisive pronoucements about what he can't be at the next level does so at his own peril. As Weis is someone who has coached and developed players at the high school, college and professional levels, so his experience probably gives him some insight on the subject that recruiting gurus like Lemming and most of us don't possess.

I don't doubt that Weis has different things in mind for some of the members of this class than what you'd gather from reading Rivals.

Michael
Agreed on this...I think there is more a perception of versatility because of Weis' background but I'm not so certain that this class is any more versatile than previous ones. A lot of the position changes being discussed have been discussed in previous years...same conversations, just change the names.

Jay
I think maybe the versatility factor is accentuated, or at least “noticed” more because Charlie Weis is the new coach, and we’ve seen how the Patriots use players in a variety of roles. I’m thinking here about how they put Vrabel at tight end sometimes, use Richard Seymour as a blocking back, shift Troy Brown over to DB, etc. So while this class may not be “more versatile” than other classes, and I think that there’s going to be a willingness on the coaches’ part to actually use and test that versatility, shift guys around, you know -- perhaps to a degree that we haven’t seen in a long time.

If I remember correctly, Holtz did a bunch of this when he first came in: making Heck a tackle, putting Stams over on defense, moving Steve Belles (Steve Belles!) to defense, George Poorman to DB, etc. He wasn’t afraid to simply assess a guy’s raw talent and put him where he could prosper. Charlie seems to think the same way.

Anyway, switching gears for a second...When we fired Ty, we pretty much immediately lost a few commits: Harrison, Wilson (seemingly) and Frierson, and things were thrown into turmoil.

A question that comes to mind...do you think there was a better way we could have handled the firing of Ty and the transition to Weis that could have salvaged these guys, and maybe strengthened the class overall? In other words, here's an invitation to do some Monday morning quarterbacking. Given what we know now about how recruiting ended up this year, what would you have done differently? Could anything have been done differently? Is this the best possible class that we could have gotten under the circumstances?

Mike
I don't think there was a better way to handle this, because I believe the two factors mostly - if not entirely - responsible for the defections were two factors beyond our control. These factors were:

1) Ty's recruiting sales pitch. It was always more about the opportunity to be molded by Ty Willingham than the Notre Dame experience. To this end, Ty presented himself as a larger than life figure to recruits. If a player had committed prior to the firing, they probably bought into this image of Ty, which would make his firing hard to swallow.

2) Media coverage. Dodd, Wilbon, et al, couldn't wait to get their shots in at Notre Dame. Nothing we could have done would have changed this - Wilbon never gave ND credit for hiring Willingham in the first place. Willingham was portrayed as a great, noble coach who got a raw deal. I'm sure recruits followed the story as closely as we all deal, and until Weis was named coach the standard media spin was almost all the recruits were hearing.

So factor 1 + factor 2 = a few pissed-off recruits. An inevitable short-term loss.

Perhaps there is one thing we could have done - had Kevin White not been a completely self-serving jackass at the press conference announcing Willingham's firing, the media would have had less material with which to work. But I don't think the spin would have been materially different had he not.

Teds
First off, there was no better way to handle this. Cripes, we had a new coach in place ten days after Willingham was removed. Given the Meyer schtupping and everything else that went on, that's more than satisfactory. I know that it felt like a good month or two based on our own handwringing and the ridiculous media coverage that followed it, but the University acted swiftly and intelligently in making their decision. And Chris Fowler is more than welcome to [expletive deleted] if he thinks differently.

Brandon Harrison and the other recruits who reference how Willingham was "handled" are sidestepping the real issue . There wasn't a damn thing unprofessional about how Willingham was ousted. They just didn't like the fact that he was dismissed at all. I wish that these people would be more honest about their feelings instead of implicating the University for some sort of gross misconduct, as if they deviated from the standard code on how to fire a football coach. Kevin White bent over backwards to praise Willingham in the press conference. Short of retaining him, what else could you possibly want?

The biggest miss this year was definitely not landing a pure cornerback. Most of this falls on Willingham, because anyone who watched ND play for more than about three minutes this past season could see that there was an immediate opportunity for someone with some semblance of corner skills. But Willingham couldn't even sell the potential of immediate playing time, because he was a completely insufficient recruiter. No matter what Weis does in the immediate future, keeping Willingham on for another season probably would have set the program back another two or three years. That's what a poor coach and recruiter he really was. Kids might have liked and respected him (such as Allen Smith and his mother), but they weren't nearly so gung-ho when it came to actually playing for him.

We're so much better off for being rid of Willingham, and my giddiness leads me to make absurd proclamations, like that Weis will produce as many NFL draft picks from the current signing group as any Irish recruiting class has accounted for over the past decade. This is how strongly I feel about how insufficiently our players have been developed during the Willingham and Davie regimes. Irish fans have become conditioned to think that we need to outtalent our opponents to win games, but that's simply not the case.

Sean
Anyone who is using this year's class as a reason to temper expectations next year, take a look at Weis' overall body of work for recruiting this season. He brought 11 non-committed kids onto campus and signed EIGHT, with one (Lorig) still deciding. That's a phenomenal closing ratio, especially for a guy who had less than a month and virtually no face-to-face time to build a relationship with any of these players. If anything, that speaks to (1) Weis and his staff's phenomenal sales skills and (2) the staying power of Notre Dame as a brand name with the right kids (see Herring, Ray).

By the way, here's a real nice story from signing day. Further proof that Tom Lemming is the anti-Christ and college football recruiting is the beginning of our societal downfall.

Jay
That leads me to my next comment. This whole recruiting thing...it's ugly, it brings out the worst in people, it's slimy, and it's the closest I'll come to feeling like a pedophile. That said, it's a necessary evil, but I sort of wish I didn't follow it as closely as I do.

Sean
Wait, are we talking about recruiting or porn?

Pat
Sounds like a future post topic: "Recruiting, or Porn?"

"Hold on honey, I'm just downloading some videos of a 17 year old boy off the internet."

Recruiting or porn?

"Thank goodness for these pay chat rooms where we can talk about the kids without worrying about people stealing our information."

Recruiting or porn?

"Hey, let's head over to the high school and see if there is any good talent this year."

Recruiting or porn?

Sean
With Burt Reynolds starring as Tom Lemming: "He's my 17 year old piece of gold."

Teds
The more attention I pay to college football recruiting, the more convinced I become that I'm completely wasting my time by paying so much attention to college recruiting. By and large, great college players are developed at the next level, not plucked ready-made from the vine.

And there's only a small trace of sour grapes in there. Swear.

Sean
I'm so hesitant to trash college recruiting in 2004 and the way that Lemming and his ilk approach and profit from it because we all follow it so closely and eat up what he's serving like candy. That said, these kids are WAY too empowered, and a lot of it is because of the age we live in and the stage that the Tom Lemmings of the world have created. There's just something a little unsavory about a guy getting into a car and driving 5,000 miles around the country so he can watch a bunch of spandex wearing 17 year olds in Mississippi lift weights and run the forty. I'm just saying....

Pat
Looking for positives, recruiting has always been shady and just a bit creepy. One of the benefits of the increased exposure in college recruiting is that it is helping to expose some of the blatant criminal acts some schools and coaches perform to get certain kids to their schools. The story about the coach paid $150,000 to steer his prize player to 'Bama and the whole Willie Williams fiasco are two small examples of things that go on all the time and never get reported. Now with more people looking, it's getting harder for the criminals to keep recruiting kids the "old fashioned way". Eventually they might have to sell the kids on actual football and academic reasons.

Sean
Good point - the dialing down of the lear jets and four-lobster/two-steak dinners (which I attritbute directly to the Willie Williams diaries last year) can only help our cause. Now if the NCAA would just tie graduation rates to bowl eligibility...

Teds
What I find sort of odd about all things ND is how often the developments, especially with coaches, come out in what seem to be these blatent characatures of good and evil.

Take a guy like Urban Meyer. Some of us (guilty as charged) loved him and thought that he was born to coach ND and restore the team to greatness. So Willingham gets dumped, Meyer gets offered the job and...he turns it down to go to Florida. In most situations where that sort of scenario plays out, Meyer would simply go about his business in Florida, doing just what he's done before without any serious controversy and leading a winning team at Florida. Perhaps even winning a championship and doing the sorts of things that we pined for him to do at ND.

Instead, he's exposed himself almost immediately as this shady character dispossessed of any purported loyalties to ND that would prevent him from taking our coaches or recruits. And now we have evidence that he doesn't even have enough respect for this program, one he called his dream job and referred to as the pinnacle of college football just months ago, to avoid trashing us to prospective recruits and their families. The only detail left hanging is the press clipping about him cheating on his wife or kicking someone's dog.

So I ask you: am I imagining this because of the bias, or does it often seem like those who abandon Notre Dame announce themselves as louts and generally unsavory characters?

The situation wasn't altogether different with Matt Doherty, when he left Notre Dame to take over as coach at his alma mater of North Carolina. Once there, he had a few recruiting entanglements with ND, then went on to prove himself to be something of a bad apple, a coach who wasn't all he was cracked up to be and, ultimately, a failure who was dishonorably discharged from his dream job within three seasons. Drop curtain.

I also see some good "evil antagonist" characteristics in the Pete Carroll figure with his Eddie Haskell underpinnings, and I see someone who's ripe for a fall in the sort of "Behind the Music" way that I've described elsewhere.

So does life always live itself out in these broad morality plays, or does it just seem that way with our coaches?

Sean
I don't know the answer to your ultimate question, but if "Urban Meyer's Florida coaching career playing out the same way as Matt Doherty's UNC coaching career" were available on Ebay, I'd pony up $5,000 and not even care. Seriously, it would be THAT entertaining and satisfying to watch. I'm not exagerrating. 5 grand, EASY.

Pat
I'm of the opinion that recruiting is like soap operas for guys. Aside from the lack of amnesia subplots, it has all of the intrigue, backstabbing, wild speculation, ever evolving cast of characters, and complicated storylines. Here's my take on some of the notable storylines/characters from this year.

Feel Good Story - I think Ray Herring is the hands down winner in this category. Not only was he ND's biggest cheerleader in his online recruiting journal, but in a recent diary entry he dropped this emotional bombshell about his father who was paralyzed during a high school football game.

"My Dad told me a secret after I made my decision final. Notre Dame was his dream school that he wanted to go to before he was paralyzed. God always works things out! Now, I can play for both of us!"

Most Anti-Climatic Story - The whole David Nelson saga. As he dragged out his "I'm a soft commit, but looking around" saga, his actions turned off a lot of Notre Dame fans and really started to get under the skin of people for varying reasons. David, if you're looking around that seriously, you're not committed. Furthermore, don't use the "lack of personal attention" routine to justify squirming out of your previous verbal committment to Notre Dame. Just come out and say you want to go somewhere else. By the time he dove headfirst into the deep UF depth chart, most ND fans had already had enough of the name David Nelson.

The "Amatuer Hour" story - The way that the former staff attempted to recruit and sign a quarterback was hilarious...for everyone that doesn't like Notre Dame. Obviously Mark Sanchez was the prime suspect, but even though ND made his final four list, Diedrick couldn't be bothered to meet Sanchez when he came to campus and ND didn't even offer him a scholarship until 2 weeks before he made his decision. Maybe that's because Diedrick was enamored with the cannon arm of Rob Schoenhoft. Despite the fact that Robbie had mediorce stats, was benched by his own coach for mediocre performance, and looked like a tight end in the making, Diedrick apparently saw a fit for his "system". Meanwhile, Evan Sharpley calmly and confidently waited until ND offered him a scholarship and he prompted committed. The whole fiasco was maddening from a Notre Dame fan point of view and was an up close and personnel look at the disorganization and lazy recruiting style of the previos coaching staff.

The "Karma's a Bitch" Story - North Carolina was pursuing running back Montario Hardesty and when they thought they had him they made room for him by yanking the scholarship from a previously committed, lower ranked running back. Then, on signing day Hardesty changed his mind and signed with the UT Volunteers.

Jay
Recruiting game = a soap opera for guys. That's about the size of it.

Sean
Final thought -- I don't think it's a stretch to call the 2006 recruiting class the most important in the last 25 years. Given the lack of numbers in key areas and the overall dip in talent level in the last two recruting classes, Weis needs to hit a 1987 or 1990 Vinny Cerrato style home run. 1987 is probably the best analogy, since that was Holtz's first full recruiting class coming in on the heels of the Faust Era. If you remember, 1987 gave us immediate impact freshmen like Ricky Watters, Todd Lyght, Tony Brooks, Andre Jones, and sophomore building blocks like Chris Zorich, Tim Ryan, Scott Kowalkowski, and Mike Heldt. If this staff recruits like everyone seems to think they will, they will probably give damn near the full 25 scholarships next year. There have to be at least 7 or 8 kids ready to play right away in that group. As for the kids we did get, given that we only brought in 15 (for now), I think we addressed some key areas. We got the all-important quarterback, a couple of very good wide receivers, bookend tackles, a top notch tight end, a sleeper fullback, and we loaded up on the defensive side of the ball. Obviously, the glaring omissions are a tailback (any tailback), an impact pass rusher, lockdown corner, and some more offensive linemen.

Jay
I can't disagree with that. To borrow an overused cliche, next year is everything.

(Looking at watch) Christ...is our flight ready to go yet?

Sean
The one they rebooked us on? It looks like it just got cancelled.

(the table sighs.)

Dylan
Another onion blossom, anyone?

Following up on my last hoops post | by Dylan

Responding to my post about ND’s position as number ten all-time in NCAA Division I basketball wins and my excitement that ND will likely overtake IU and move into ninth position this year, reader John brings me back to earth:

I have to disagree with your contention that this is some sort of a watershed moment for ND basketball. For the most part, ND has had the lead in total wins since early in the 20th century, and IU pulled ahead less than ten years ago. As the NCAA records indicate, IU entered the season with a seven-game lead, 1555 to 1548. Now, think about how bad ND was in the 1990s. From 1991-92 (the beginning of the MacLeod era) through 2004, IU won 283 games, and ND won 213. That would mean ND had a 63 game lead when MacLeod came to town. I had the exact figures and lost them, but I calculated it when I read your post on NDN, and it appears that IU only pulled ahead in 1997-9.

John makes a great point about the impending jump to ninth not being an historic changing of the guard. But in a way, this adds to my bewilderment (and points out how badly I need to read Mike Coffey's book). According to John’s information, ND was, until a miserable, decade-long slump, well ahead of IU in basketball victories. Granted, ND has no national titles, but I think this underscores the fact that the Irish, while never truly considered “elite,” have been among the most successful Division I programs for a long, long time. ND has won more games than any school in the Big Ten, save Indiana, and that will change (we hope) this year. Particularly galling is Illinois, whose basketball reputation inexplicably looms larger than that of the Irish, but has over 50 fewer wins and has never won a title. Notre Dame has won over one hundred more games than NC State, about 150 more than Connecticut, and almost 200 more than Georgetown. We have won 220+ more games than Michigan State. The elephant in the room is, of course, titles. They have ‘em, we don’t. Go figure.

If ND had won two more games in 1978, would it be considered to be an “elite” program today?